GLORY TO THE FATHER
AND TO THE SON
AND TO THE HOLY SPIRIT,
AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING,
AND WILL BE FOREVER, AMEN.
I am glad we have wedding coordinators here at Central Lutheran. I have had a couple of weddings this summer; Pastor John has too. It is so nice having someone to help the couples walk up and down the aisle, coordinate ushers and photographers and let me, as the pastor, guide the couples through their vows but not worry about the order of the receiving line. I never did get the order right on that. Amy Vanderbilt in her etiquette book says that groomsmen must never be in the receiving line but bridesmaids may.
As I was paging through the book, I found that there is etiquette for introducing new servants to the household. Did you know that the servant is introduced to the whole family even the baby? The servants may address children below their teens by their first names unless titled. In formal households they should be addressed as “Master James” or “Miss Ellen.” Now that is information you probably didn’t know. I didn’t. We never had servants.
Some years ago my wife Margit was studying in London. When she was there some of the leaders of the Bobath Centre, the institute where she was doing physical therapy training, were invited to a royal garden party at Buckingham Palace. The women were formally introduced to their patron, the Duchess of Gloucester and met the Queen. They told Margit and the other students how they were instructed to behave: Gentlemen must wear formal wear with top hats and ladies must also wear hats. The Queen is surrounded by ladies-in-waiting forming a square around her. She must never be addressed. She will extend her hand first. One must never turn one’s back toward the Queen.
Now most of us do not need to worry about how to behave in the presence of royalty, although when King Harald and Queen Sonia of Norway came to Concordia College a few years ago even those of standing along the sidewalk were coached how to act. We could not use the restrooms in the auditorium because only the royal couple would have them available. Most of us will never need worry about Buckingham Palace etiquette or the introduction of servants and many of the weddings we attend now are much more informal affairs.
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Our lesson today could be described as how to have good manners which really means how to be spared embarrassment and shame:
DO NOT PUT YOURSELF FORWARD IN THE KING’S PRESENCE
OR STAND IN THE PLACE OF THE GREAT;
FOR IT IS BETTER TO BE TOLD, ‘COME UP HERE’
THAN TO BE PUT LOWER IN THE PRESENCE OF A NOBLE.
It is just common sense not to presume and then be embarrassed. It has happened to me. When I was a young pastor, I wore a cross around my neck over my robes. It was a beautiful, sterling silver cross. I wore it to an installation service of a good friend and was told to take it off. I was scolded because I didn’t remember that the pectoral cross was the sign of a bishop. Who did I think I was to presume to wear one? I have never worn a neck cross over my robes since.
Jesus echoes the words of King Solomon—scholars say that Proverbs was wisdom attributed to Israel’s wisest king but probably written by royal scribes. Much of the book has to do with how to live one’s life in the best way. And our proverb for today is how not to think more highly of oneself than one should. Jesus was at a banquet at the house of a leader of the Pharisees on the Sabbath and noticed the order at the table. Of course the guests of honor took the best places. Jesus was reminded of our Proverbs text and told a parable about someone at a banquet feast who was asked to take a lower seat; another guest was invited to take the higher place. How absolutely dreadful to presume to be the guest of honor only to be told to move down lower and how wonderful to be told by the host to sit higher. The teaching is common sense but it also has a religious meaning. The Lord spoke to His hearers about genuine humility, not presuming to think oneself better or holier or more honored than one was:
FOR ALL WHO EXALT THEMSELVES
WILL BE HUMBLED,
AND THOSE WHO HUMBLE THEMSELVES
WILL BE EXALTED.
The religious meaning of this proverb deals with the heavenly feast. Those who exalt themselves on earth will be humbled in heaven. Those who are humble, the meek, the poor in spirit, the peacemakers, they will be lifted up. In fact this statement of Jesus of turning the tables is one of the most repeated statements in the Gospels. Jesus talks over and over again of a great reversal—the work of God is to topple the mighty from their thrones and life up those of low degree. Jesus commands His disciples to follow His example. Jesus humbled Himself becoming a servant, suffering and dying on a cross and only then is He raised to glory. Those who would follow Jesus should do this:
WHEN YOU GIVE A LUNCHEON OR A DINNER,
DO NOT INVITE YOUR FRIENDS OR YOUR BROTHERS
OR YOUR RELATIVES OR RICH NEIGHBORS,
IN CASE THEY MAY INVITE YOU IN RETURN,
AND YOU WOULD BE REPAID.
BUT WHEN YOU GIVE A BANQUET,
INVITE THE POOR, THE CRIPPLED,
THE LAME AND THE BLIND.
AND YOU WILL BE BLESSED,
BECAUSE THEY CANNOT REPAY YOU,
FOR YOU WILL BE REPAID
AT THE RESURRECTION OF THE RIGHTEOUS.
St. Lawrence, a deacon in the Church in Rome , was handed over to the authorities during the persecution of Valerian, AD 257. He was charged to hand over the treasures of the Roman Church. He handed over poor people, widows, the lame, and the blind for the Emperor. These, Lawrence said, were the true treasures of the Church.
We need more Lawrences in our churches today. Not many congregations tout the number of refugees, physically or mentally handicapped people, foster children or old people living only on social security they have in their membership. They would rather talk about how many doctors, lawyers and up-and-coming business people they might have. Jesus’ guest list for the Kingdom is just this, the poor, the maimed, lame and blind. They need our help but can give nothing in return. But Jesus’ words carry a promise—Our Heavenly Father will give a reward in heaven. Whatever you do for the least of your brothers and sisters, you also do to God.
When people think of Central Lutheran Church , they think of elegant worship—that is how the Register Guard described us—the Brombaugh organ, “one of the treasures of Western America ,” the noted architect Pietro Beluschi who designed this building or the concerts advertised in the newspaper or over the radio. We are proud of these things and should be. But the church is much more than building or baroque music. People may come for these things but they stay here or leave because of people. We seek spiritual enrichment, a sense of God’s presence in our lives. We want a connection to other people, a caring community. We also seek a way to help others.
The very best part of our mission statement was only added a couple of years ago “Loving Christians Together Serving.” We should love the Lord and each other:
You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your mind,
and with all your strength;
and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
We show our faith by our service, by our love for each other here at Central, praying, inviting, growing and celebrating together. Even more we show our faith by serving those who have nothing to give us in return.
I so wish the community would think of Central Lutheran as the place where the homeless shelter is, where we invite Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous to meet, where people build Habitat for Humanity houses and go on mission trips, where our youth are not focused on entertaining themselves but caring for Jamaican crippled children or serving the family food program for the hungry. Central Lutheran Church —oh, they are a group of people who care more about others than they do about themselves. They reach out to students at the University of Oregon, to the homeless staying at the Eugene Mission, to Masai women in Africa, to orphans in India, to handicapped girls at the Oasis in Guatemala.
We do all these things. We serve in so many ways. Perhaps it is not so important that others recognize our service. People in the community may think of us as the best Christmas music in town. It is enough for God to know our love and care and service. God knows that we help so many people in need.
We started talking this morning about good manners, being humble enough that we are never shamed or snubbed. But the best etiquette is not about introducing servants or bowing and curtsying before the Queen. It is all about caring for people, treating others as we want to be treated and helping those who can not help themselves. Even Amy Vanderbilt would agree. She says:
“I respect people who are unpretentious yet mannerly,
considerate and honest,
forthright yet kind and tactful.
I dislike display and foolish expenditure––
that is spending to impress others who have less
as well as to impress associates.
Some of the rudest and most objectionable people
have been technically most ‘correct.’
Some of the warmest, most lovable people
have had little more than an innate feeling
of what is right towards others.
Selfishness is the sum of bad manners.”
I don’t know what Amy Vanderbilt would say about Leona Helmsley who died this past week, the “Queen of Mean,” the woman who was caught saying she didn’t pay taxes because “only the little people pay taxes.” Helmsley cut off two of her grandchildren from an inheritance, but left $12,000,000 to her Maltese terrier, “Trouble.” It was said of her that only her dog could love her.
Jesus condemned the Pharisees who “tithe mint and dill and cumin, but have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” He condemned those who took the seats of honor at banquets. He warned them of the disgrace to come when the Master would ask them to give their seats to more honored guests. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled.
Jesus commends those who serve others. Those who humble themselves will be exalted. And when we do for the least of our brothers and sisters who can never repay us on earth, well, our God will bless us and repay us at the resurrection of the righteous. Amen.
Copyright 2007, James D. Kegel. Used by permission.